Earlier this morning, the Associated Press ran a story based on a hoax press release that stated General Electric had opted to give back its “refund.” You may recall there was a fair amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth after a New York Times article made the company look like huge international conglomerate attempting to minimize its legal tax obligation (talk about nerve). As you may be aware, the “refund” is actually a “deferred tax benefit” and we can’t think of any company that would simply give those back after some pesky article from the Times. Anyhoo, the AP has bit of egg on its face and GE is once again a punching bag and has re-reiterated the fact they DID NOT GET A REFUND.
Of course the last time GE went on a PR offensive, they got schooled by Henry Blodget. On Twitter. So instead of wading back into that scary end of the pool, they shuffled out a spokeswoman to simply say, “It’s a hoax and GE did not receive a refund.”
This is really a missed opportunity for GE, in our opinion. Jeff Immelt could have seized this opportunity to have a sense of humor about the whole thing, acknowledge the efforts of the Yes Men (the hoaxers) and say, “You know, we’re a big company with the best tax law firm right here, in-house, and sometimes people hate on us *cough*The Times*cough* because they do such a good job. And maybe we employ a bunch of Treasury Department alums too. I mean, we’ve got the money. Why wouldn’t we do it? These Yes Men guys, they’re okay. They’re trying to be funny in sort of an Onion sorta way and we’re cool with that. I read The Onion once. It seemed pretty humorous.”
And by “figured out,” I’m referring to “worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and […] $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States,” combined with a grand total $0.00 in taxes. “In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion,” reports the Times.
Sure the Internal Revenue Code is complex but if you’re aggressive, have a few lobbyists at your disposal and your tax department is “often referred to as the best tax law firm,” the IRC is a cakewalk.
Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm. Indeed, the company’s slogan “Imagination at Work” fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.